WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
The coroner investigating the brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children has shared her heartbreaking findings, saying it was “unlikely” anyone could have stopped Clarke’s estranged husband, Rowan Baxter, and his “murderous plans”.
Deputy state coroner Jane Bentley fought back tears as she revealed her 160-page report detailing the failure to protect the young mum and her three children- Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3- because of a perception that Clarke was not in danger, possibly because Baxter had not previously been physically violent.
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“Rowan Baxter was not mentally ill. He was a master of manipulation,” Bentley told the court.
Bentley also claimed that authorities had numerous opportunities to help Clarke in the lead-up to her murder but that she found it”unlikely that any further actions taken by police officers, service providers, friends or family members could have stopped Baxter from ultimately executing his murderous plans.”
“That failure probably came about because Baxter had not been violent and had no relevant criminal history,” Bentley said.
“Her fears were genuine and realistic and ultimately confirmed in the worst possible way.”
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But for Clarke’s parents, Sue and Lloyd Clarke, the release of the inquest’s findings was the moment they received some justice for their daughter and grandchildren.
“It was never a witch hunt, it was the system that was broken and they’ve realised that. The coroner has seen that well and truly and brought that to a head,” Sue said.
But even if the system wasn’t “broken”, Lloyd believes nothing would have stopped Baxter.
“He was just one of those people … so callous and used everyone as a pawn in his monstrous ways,” he said.
Sue added: “Every now and then I think a true monster is born and you can’t stop them.”
Since the murder of their daughter, the couple has been crucial in the fight to criminalise coercive control in Queensland and have been strong advocates for the protection of women from domestic and family violence.
“We need the other states to look at what Queensland has started and are doing and they need to follow suit,” Lloyd said.
“It’s an uncomfortable conversation we’ve started but we all need to keep this conversation ongoing.”
“Hopefully with the education, no one will fail to see that risk again,” Sue added.
Bently has made four recommendations that she says require “immediate attention” to prevent similar deaths.
These include a five-day face-to-face training program for specialist DV police “as a matter of urgency”, a mandatory DV module for all officers as part of their annual skills training, and funding for men’s behaviour change programs.
Bentley also recommended the Queensland government conduct a 12 month trial of a specialist domestic violence police station.
The Queensland government has agreed to implement each recommendation and has started an independent inquiry into broader cultural issues in the police service.
FAMILY VIOLENCE DISCLAIMER: If you are concerned about domestic and family violence in your family, friends or workplace, contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978, Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for confidential support, advice and referral that will help you explore your options.